Mind games

The headline of this Washington Post article (paper edition) is “Warren dust-up shows Trump sway over Democratic contest.” A better title would substitute “minds” for “contest.”

Trump certainly got in Elizabeth Warren’s head. His constant “Pocahontas” references induced her to take a DNA test, publicize its results, and thereby make herself a source of greater ridicule than before.

Trump is also responsible for the fact that clownish Michael Avenatti is mentioned as a contender for nomination in 2020. Democrats seemed intrigued, for a while at least, by the prospect that he could get into Trump’s head the way Trump has been getting into theirs. (The Dems might want to revise this view after Avenatti’s performance during the Kavanaugh struggle and now that Avenatti’s frivolous suit against Trump resulted in his client having to pay the president’s legal fees.)

It’s not just Democrats whom Trump succeeds in throwing off balance. Remember during one of the Republican debates in 2016 when the candidates were asked, in effect, to give themselves a nickname? Jeb Bush’s answer, delivered while looking at Trump, was “the Energizer Bunny.” The appellation “low energy Jeb” clearly had gotten to the candidate.

Does Trump get into the heads of foreign leaders too? Probably in some cases. Let’s hope so.

It’s easy for folks like me who have never endured the trials of running for office, or even of preparing for a run, to shake our heads at the psychological effect Trump has on rival politicians. The closest analogy in my life has been dealing with hyper-aggressive opposing counsel during fairly high stakes litigation. I probably committed more than one error under the strain.

Are politicians as a group more insecure than the rest of us? Maybe. But I suspect that Trump is such a force of nature that many of us would falter under his unconventional acts of verbal aggression.